Nats 3, Braves 2: Second Look

Lost in the Nationals’ piano-wire tight win over the Braves on Thursday was, well, just about everything besides Scott Olsen, who came five outs from the first no-hitter in Nationals history, and Willie Harris, who drove in the winning run with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. But this was an impressive win for more reasons than those two, a victory that gave the Nationals their fourth win in their last six series through a couple key hits, sharp defense (ironically, from everyone but their Gold Glover) and a bullpen performance from Tyler Clippard that kept the Braves from taking the lead, despite his mistakes.

“It was such a good game. Scott threw such a good game,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose two throwing errors were nearly negated by a double off the right-field wall in the ninth that almost left the park. “For him not to get (the win), and for us to come back and win, I think it was a really good team win.”

The game story is here, focusing on the adversity that’s propelled Olsen and Harris to this point. And the replay of the live thread is here -- kind of fun to go back through that and see how everyone was reacting to the possible no-hitter. On with the awards.

Golden Geese
Scott Olsen: Did you really expect him not to get one of these? That Olsen took a no-hitter into the eighth inning looked like less of a fluke than it would have in spring training; he’d thrown 13 straight shutout innings before Thursday night, and he toyed with a Braves lineup that had already been no-hit once this year, by the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. Olsen’s fastball is back in the low 90s, and he’s throwing more strikes with it than he did last year. That’s setting up a slider and changeup that have been very good when working off his fastball. “He was throwing the fastball 91, 92,” catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. “Basically I went with that, in and out, in and out, and he jammed a lot of those guys.”


Adam Dunn: He went 2-for-3, homered for the fifth time in 14 games and is 16-for-51 in that stretch. After a homerless spring and cold first two weeks of the season, Dunn is locked in at the plate right now. It’s as simple as that.

Ivan Rodriguez: Pudge homered for the first time as a member of the Nationals, taking Tim Hudson deep to left in the fifth inning to put the Nationals up 1-0. Also give him credit for the way he’s handled Olsen recently; the guy knows how to call a game, and he’s maximized Olsen’s secondary pitches by moving his fastball through the strike zone. He’s caught two no-hitters before (Kenny Rogers’ perfect game in 1994 with Texas and Justin Verlander’s no-hitter in 2007 with Detroit), but came to the majors a couple months after Nolan Ryan’s final no-hitter with the Rangers. Ryan took a no-hitter into the eighth inning with Rodriguez behind the plate on July 7, 1991, but it got broken up “the same way,” Rodriguez said. “Dave Winfield got a base hit, same direction, same way.” It’s tough to argue all that experience didn’t help Olsen on Thursday night, and when David Ross broke it up, Rodriguez went to the mound for a quick visit, just to put some space between the base hit and the rest of the game. It was a simple move, but a smart one for a veteran whose experience with pitchers is already proving its worth. “He’s really loving his job. He’s playing hard. He looks like he’s 25 years old,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s a pleasure to watch work back there.”

Goose Eggs
Ryan Zimmerman’s defense: It probably won’t be often that you’ll see Zimmerman’s defense earn negative marks, but it did on Thursday with a pair of rushed throwing errors in the eighth and ninth inning. After Olsen’s no-hitter got broken up in the eighth, Zimmerman fielded Melky Cabrera’s grounder at third and tried to pistol-whip it to second base, throwing over Alberto Gonzalez’s head and angrily kicking the dirt at third base. He also overthrew Adam Dunn at first base in the ninth inning trying to get Troy Glaus. “Those are tough plays. Those are plays I expect myself to make,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not going to change the way I play. If I can do a 360, I’m going to try and throw the guy out.”

Tyler Clippard: He got the win, and he’s been brilliant all year, but you have to put Clippard here for his troubles controlling his stuff in the eighth and ninth innings. He gave up two hits and two walks, loading the bases in the ninth inning. He did get out of both innings with double plays, but threw only 19 of 33 pitches for strikes and looked a little tired. Riggleman is still searching for a reliever to take some heat off Clippard in the late innings, and he might not have it until Drew Storen gets called up.

In Case You Missed It:
--Riggleman opted for defense in the eighth inning with the Nationals up two, pulling Adam Dunn and moving Adam Kennedy to first. It’s difficult to tell whether he was trying to protect the no-hitter or just the win, but as well as Dunn has played at first, it seemed like an odd time to take the Nationals’ biggest bat out of the game, especially when he’s playing good defense.


--With first base open and two runners on base in the ninth, Riggleman knew whoever he brought up to pinch-hit for Alberto Gonzalez in the ninth inning would get walked. He was left choosing between switch-hitter Cristian Guzman and left-hander Willie Harris to face right-handed submariner Peter Moylan. Guzman is a better hitter from the right side than the left, so Riggleman allowed them to walk Guzman and pitch to Harris, who came through with the game-winner. “If it was a left-hander pitching, I’d want Guzman to hit, so I’d want Willie walked,” Riggleman said. “But from the left side, I felt a little better about Willie.” Harris had been warming up in the batting cage by playing a game with catcher Wil Nieves where each tries to hit balls to the back of the cage, helping each of them to get ready to do that in the game. “What it does for us is, it just gets our hands working,” Harris said. “It keeps you through the ball, as opposed to around the ball or filleting it to left field. You want to just hit it, using your hands, and I was able to do that tonight.”

--If you’re tempted to make a big deal out of the Braves calling for the mound to be tamped down in the bottom of the seventh inning, purportedly messing with Olsen’s setup, don’t; the left-hander said after the game he was happy it got fixed; because Tim Hudson throws from the right and Olsen from the left, they were crossing paths and mucking up the dirt on the mound. “I was glad they did, because the mound was not good, not good all day,” he said. “It just wasn’t very good. That didn’t bother me. I was happy that they finally brought someone out there to fix it.” Sorry, conspiracy theorists.

--Had Ryan Zimmerman’s ninth-inning double been a few feet higher, it would’ve landed in the Nationals’ bullpen, like Nieves’ walk-off (and first career homer) to right field did against the Cubs in 2008. (That, of course, is the homer that spawned this MASN commercial. Told he almost hit a walk-off the way Nieves did, Zimmerman smirked and said, “Ask him the name of someone who’s done it more than once.” He started walking away when a reporter asked if it was Zimmerman’s name Nieves should remember, the third baseman playfully threw up his hands and said, “Hey, you said it.”

Talking Points
1. The Braves became the second team to take some jabs at Olsen after losing to him; the Dodgers’ Casey Blake did it last month when Olsen threw seven shutout innings against them. Are they on to something, or is it just sour grapes from teams losing to a pitcher they’ve been used to beating? (The Braves, remember, had some sick numbers against Olsen before Thursday.) And does it bother you?

2. Did Clippard look burned out to you on Thursday, or was it just an off-night? What would you do about getting him a break? Sean Burnett? Brian Bruney? Call up the kid? Let me know your ideas.

3. What was your take on the late-inning strategy? Did it seem like Riggleman was playing to protect the no-hitter, or figuring he’d have enough defense to get him through it with a couple big pinch hits?

4. A bonus: Where does this rank for you among games you’ve watched as a Nationals fan, in terms of memorability and sheer fun? For me, it was up there. I’ve never seen a no-hitter go that far before, and the way the Braves came back, only for the Nationals to come back again, made for great theater. And the wind was even blowing note cards down from the broadcast booth, reminiscent of Jim Bowden throwing confetti during Ramon Ortiz’s near no-no in 2006.

Leave your answers to the Talking Points questions in the comments, as usual, and feel free to bring up anything else on your mind there. More from the park later today.